Friday, April 11, 2014

Love Thyself

This semester my religion class has been learning about and discovering many of the world's major religions. We have covered religions such as Judaism, Taoism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Sikhism and a few of the primal religious traditions. Discussing the different aspects of these religions, and coming to a better understanding of their practices and origins, has provided insight beyond the surface of the rituals and creeds that constitute these belief systems. I teach senior religion, which means that as the year ends, so too does their high school experience. They will soon enter the world as young adults where expectations will go from turning in homework and showing up to class on time, to creating their own schedules and paying their own bills. But just as the externals of religion must point toward something greater, I wanted my students to know that the external expectations of them must also stir something deeper.

First of all, I wanted them to know that there will always be expectations placed on them, sometimes by others and sometimes by themselves. Sometimes they will be able to fulfill those expectations, and sometimes they won't. Our list of what is expected of them during this stage in their lives looked a bit like this:

Be on time
Turn work in
Dress modestly
Don't drink
Don't do drugs
Don't talk in class
Learn to drive
Be kind
Be charitable
Be respectful toward authority
No sex
Curfew
No partying
Forgive
Go to college
Get a job
Obedient
No cussing

When I asked them how they felt when they didn't meet these expectations, they provided a list that looked somewhat like this:

Guilty
Low self-esteem
Disappointment
Frustrated
Angry

When I asked how many of them were actually able to abide by our list of expectations, only a couple raised their hands. "What do we tell ourselves when we don't meet these expectations?" I asked. They said, "Oh it's ok, maybe next time I'll do it," or "What's wrong with me?  Why can't I get it right?" So we concluded that we come up with excuses for not meeting these external expectations in order to defend our mishaps. Other times we let that negative voice take over and tell us we must not be good enough.  However, I let them know that these excuses and feelings of shame can be done away with by simply and honestly trying our best. And as important as these externals are, they mean nothing if there is no internal connection.

There are also those times in life when we don't get the externals right, but there is still something happening beyond the surface that others don't see, or refuse to see. Only you and God really know what you are capable of. I told them, "If you truly couldn't get that homework assignment in on time, but you know you did your best and are not making excuses, then there is no reason to feel guilty.  There will always be someone we disappoint, just know that. Others will disappoint us, too. It's freeing to accept the fact that you can't and won't please everyone. We are responsible for doing what we can and loving ourselves in the process."

I just wanted them to know it was ok to celebrate the little victories, even when no one else sees them, or even when everyone else sees failure. Little victories still count. I guess I wanted you to know that, too. Celebrate your victories. Celebrate you. ♥